Six weeks before graduating college with a 3.XX GPA, I should feel more prepared for professional life than anyone. But while my classes have taught me how to master that five paragraph essay on the fly, they’ve provided considerably less guidance in the way of career prep. Thanks to my career center’s interview prep and resume reviews, I at least feel prepared to land that first job. But the average first job lasts only 18 months and retiring at 23 isn’t an option. As I ignore my academic classes for crash courses in networking and branding, I’ve fantasized about the 6 classes I could have really used in college.
1. Intro to…You.
To create a career that works for you, you need to know what works for you. Sure, career centers offer personality tests and skills assessment, but these usually gloss over the most important questions. Are you most motivated by money, a particular mission, both? Are you attracted to the flexibility of a startup or the stability of a 9 to 5? What do you love enough to do for 40+ hours every week?
Career development requires a huge outlay of time, research, and hustle, but some self-reflection ensures that you’re at least directing that effort toward the right opportunities.
2. Introduction to Corporate Cultures
When colleges prep us for the “best” jobs, we can lose focus on finding the right job for us. I can research 19th century Estonian culture with a library search, but getting a read on a company’s culture requires dissertation level inquiry. “You can ask about culture during the interview,” everyone says. But without any professional experience, we don’t know what questions to ask? A cheat sheet would have clarified the process for me.
Does the company’s mission and values align with your own? Does the company’s pace and office set-up accommodate your personal work style? Does it offer adequate opportunities for professional development? Can you spend the majority of your waking hours with these people?
Is this company worthy of your waking hours? A little sleuthing can go a long way.
3. Salary: Comprehension and Negotiation
When you’re washing dishes at minimum wage, any five-figure salary seems a fortune. But your offer’s true value is more complicated than one five (or six, lucky you) figure number. Take your offered salary. Add any bonuses, the value of your health insurance, and stock options. Taxes require additional multiplication and subtraction. Adjust for inflation. Compare against your area’s cost-of-living. That’s your actual income. As you can see, it requires a certain amount of calculus that goes unmentioned in math class.
But if determining your salary is a science, negotiating it is black magic. When a company has taken a chance on them, many young professionals- particularly women- feel it ungrateful to ask for even more. Their politeness has a price, though, as new grads who negotiated their offers saw “a 7% increase in compensation.” Counteroffering is a complex process, but it pays off. Certainly any college grad could use crash course on negotiation, maybe with a few practice rounds.
4. Side Hustle, Startup, and Self-Promotion Studies
In the age of startups and freelancing, you are your own company. Instead of pursuing your passions after hours, more than ever you can combine them with your professional skillset to supplement- or replace- that standard office job. I wish that I’d learned more about the alternatives to that 9-to-5 grind, either through starting a blog or a business. And now that I’m struggling with graphic design, social media marketing, and website design, I’d have killed for some seminars on side hustle and self promotion..
5. Office Psychology
“Office politics” is the common parlance, but workplace drama ultimately derives from psychology. And take it from a psych major: mastering office dynamics requires more than Psych 101. How can you make yourself heard in a meeting? How should you handle a performance review? How can you manage a team without alienating your coworkers?
Forensic or Abnormal Psych might be more sexy, but a primer of Office Psychology could save a lot of us from getting fired.
6. Work (1 Semester). Life (1 Semester).
At the end of the day, it’s just a job.